November 22, 2012
Who won?

It's too early to be certain. Recent hours have been without attacks on Israel or Israel attacking. Beyond caution about the violence, it is also not easy to ponder the variety of commentary, much of it hyperbolic.

With all the reservations that are appropriate, the following points are worthy of thought.

Hamas and its allies and supporters are claiming victory. They measure it by damage done to Israeli property, especially the drama of a partly destroyed 7-story apartment building south of Tel Aviv, perhaps 6 Israeli deaths and several hundred injured, and the million Israelis who spent a week close to shelters and the couple of million more who were wary of venturing too far from shelter.

The Sharkanskys spent 10 minutes in what we considered the safest part of our apartment in response to the one time we were in the city during an attack. On both occasions of the sirens sounding in Jerusalem, the missiles didn't reach the city, but landed somewhere south near Gush Etzion and Arab villages.

Israeli commentators are emphasizing the cost to Israel. Few are emphasizing the enormous damage done to Gaza, far out of proportion to what the Gazans did to Israel.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that Hamas and its allies dropped one ton of explosives on Israel, while the IDF dropped a thousand tons on Gaza.

No doubt that Israel's response was disproportionate. As it should have been. We will see if it was disproportionate enough to keep Hamas and its allies quiet for an extended period of time.

Netanyahu and his political allies appear to have scored better among their international peers than among Israelis. Some 70 percent of the people answering an instant poll said that they opposed the cease fire. However, Netanyahu and Obama are on the same page, providing one another with praise for restraint and political assistance, respectively.

It may be too early to call the Bibi-Barack alliance a love fest, but it is far difference from what was expected after the Bibi-Romney-Adelson romance earlier this month. The more important test of the new alliance will be Iran, which has been on the shelf during Gaza's week. Signs are that Iran worked hard to start and keep going Israel's problem with Gaza. The cease fire and the rubble in Gaza may render Iran the big loser. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi may be a big winner, receiving praise from Obama and Netanyahu for his work in producing a cease fire, with American aid likely to come. Morsi's efforts appear much more responsible than what was expected when the Muslim Brotherhood took over in Cairo.


Egypt's ascendance and the blow to Iran is the latest event in a competition for Middle Eastern leadership that has been going on for close to three millennia, now heated up by issues of Sunni vs Shia.

Turkey also claims leadership in the Middle East. Its Prime Minister was prominent on the media expressing himself about Israel's aggression in Gaza. Signs are that he was ignored by other parties, and is paying the cost of extremism showed in recent years toward Israel.

Another big loser is the Fatah party and West Bank regime of Mahmoud Abbas. When Hamas is up, Fatah is down.

We'll see what happens next week when Abbas is planning to ask the United Nations for recognition as a state. If he persists and wins that round, he may lose support from Israel and the US. It will take time to see what, if any, will be the practical effects of being a state recognized by the UN but not by Israel or by the US. (Some would put a question mark alongside the issue of the US not recognizing Palestinian "statehood" obtained by a UN vote without negotiating the point with Israel.)

The likelihood is that the chorus singing a "two-state solution" may continue to clog the airways, while the reality will be two non-states, intense rivals, alongside Israel. The United States, Israel, and some others will continue to prop up the Fatah regime in the West Bank, others will do the same for the Hamas regime in Gaza.

The bottom line about who won the week's conflict appears to be something that is not exactly a tied score between Hamas and Israel, but has elements of that, as well as benefits for both parties.

No doubt that Gaza suffered much more damage with more deaths and serious injuries than Israel. A significant number of men who had been Hamas leaders are now enjoying the 72 virgins in Paradise due to Muslim martyrs.


Despite the losses of life and extensive damage, Hamas continued to function during the week of conflict, and succeeded in sending many rockets to Israel. Perhaps most landed in empty fields, and quite a few landed in Gaza. Israel's anti-missile missiles destroyed 85 percent of those likely to hit populated areas. In one case, the debris of destroyed missiles landed on an empty car and destroyed it,


Hamas boasts that its power kept Israel from making a land invasion. Israeli officials claim that they inflicted sufficient damage on Hamas and its allies without risking the lives of its soldiers, and without risking Israel's standing as a moderate defender of its people among Western governments.

Israel suffered, and did not solve the Gaza problem once and for all times. However, no serious Israeli expected a solution, or should have expected it.

The best guess I can make--shared with a number of more renowned commentators, is that the extent of the damage will weigh more seriously with Hamas and other Palestinians than their loud cheers about victory. The model is Lebanon. Israel pounded and killed the assets and people of Hizbollah in 2006. Since then, there has been extensive violation of the agreement against importing arms to Lebanon. Hizbollah could do considerable damage to Israel, but it recognizes what it would suffer in return. Israel's northern border has been quiet since 2006, despite a constant flow of Hizbollah boasts about past and future victories.

Remember the theme of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) that prevailed between the US and the USSR during the Cold War. What we have here is something like Mutual Assured Non-Nuclear Destruction. Not exactly. It is tilted heavily in Israel's favor, and Israel also is said to have nuclear weapons. However, the image of MAD has its merits in describing the balance of threat between Israel and Hizbollah, and now likely between Israel and Hamas.

Israel's election remains on schedule. The campaign has begun again after a week of patriotic quiet. Early on Thursday morning I heard blood thirsty Israelis from the south claiming affiliation with Likud saying they will vote against Bibi, and the mayor of Sderot expressing his anger that Hamas was celebrating victory while continuing to send a few rockets toward his city a few hours after the onset of the cease fire.

The leaders of parties with a chance of getting into the Knesset are on record saying various things in recent days. Over the next couple of months they'll stutter their way to claiming wisdom then, now, and in the future. Iran will come back to the headlines, here and elsewhere. It may be a long two months.

For those who celebrate the holiday, I wish a Happy Thanksgiving. And I urge caution about over-eating. Excess food must be considered alongside religious extremism as limiting longevity.


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Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at November 22, 2012 03:03 AM